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Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries [Paperback]

Arend Lijphart
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 11 1999
Examining 36 democracies from 1945 to 1996, this text arrives at important - and unexpected - conclusions about what type of democracy works best. It demonstrates that consensual systems stimulate economic growth, control inflation and unemployment, and limit budget deficits.

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5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely important book Oct. 23 2008
This is an extremely important book. It is a study of 36 democracies covering the time span 1945-1996; shorter for some countries. The conclusion is that consensus democracies are better than majoritarian ones in a host of measures of the quality of the society, and are just as good by any economic measure.
The book is well written but I found reading it to be a challenge the first time through since I am not a political scientist; it was much easier the second time. The following is a summary. Quotations in the first three paragraphs below are from the Introduction.

"Defining democracy as 'government by and for the people' raises a fundamental question: who will do the governing and to whose interests should the government be responsive when the people are in disagreement and have divergent preferences? One answer to this dilemma is: the majority of the people. This is the essence of the majoritarian model of democracy."
"The alternative answer to the dilemma is: as many people as possible. This is the crux of the consensus model. It accepts majority rule only as a minimum requirement: instead of being satisfied with narrow decision-making majorities, it seeks to maximize the size of these majorities."
"The majoritarian model concentrates political power in the hands of a bare majority', though in practice it is merely a plurality, often less than a majority. "The consensus model tries to share, disperse and limit power in a variety of ways." "The majoritarian model of democracy is exclusive, competitive and adversarial, whereas the consensus model is characterized by inclusiveness, bargaining and compromise."
Characteristics of democracies are found to be in two groups of five, as shown in the table below.
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This revision of Lijphart's Classic 'Democracies' is a first-rate survey of 36 democracies, which focuses on the relationships between a number of political variables. One of the most striking features of the book is the manner in which Lijphart divides the book into 10 areas of inquiry (e.g. electoral systems, party formations, executive power, etc.), devoting one chapter per area. He reviews the theory regarding the area of interest, while also attempting to use applied examples from the 36 countries to illustrate that theory. He then tries to construct rough numerical indices to outline more formally the degree and extent to which qualitative differences exist. This helps in conceptualizing how (dis)similar two countries are with respect to one another.
The other outstanding aspect of the book is that by the end, the reader is broadly familiar with the structure of all 36 democracies. You walk away understanding how diverse the party formations of federal Germany are, or how UK Commonwealths tend to mirror their colonial power in terms of parliamentary power, centralisation of power, and so forth.
Because of its lucid and and pragmatic structure, as well as its strong comparative approach, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about what features differentiate democracies and why France is or is not similar to Japan or Paupa New Guinea--an excellent study by a classic thinker!
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not nearly what the original was Jan. 29 2004
By A Customer
Unfortunately not everything gets better with time. The original 1984 version of this book was stellar. An excellent introduction to comparative politics. Easily accessible to undergraduates and a useful reference for early graduates. Unfortunately the new book adds nothing to the original insights and uses surprisingly poor statistical methodology to force points when the data are simply not supportive. At times the author even admits to "arbitrarily selecting thresholds." As a result of the alarmingly poor methodology employed I can no longer use this text as a key componant of my undergraduate comparative politics courses. For graduates I would use it only as an example of what not to do.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lijphart fan Feb. 6 2001
By A Customer
To the reader from California
Arend Lijphart is a staple of political science honours classes in Australia with good reason. As for the Communist manifesto - good in theory - not so good in practice - all people need the right to free expression 'cos they're humans capable of independent thought - they're not drones! Cf. fall of eastern bloc!
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